At NAB, It's AboutBringing It All Back Home

Station engineers eye a mix of new technologies and traditional broadcast gear for next week’s show in Vegas
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Complete Coverage: NAB Show 2013

While a lot of the buzz for the NAB Show in Las Vegas between April 6 and 11 will revolve around new technologies for mobile, streaming video, apps and social media, more traditional broadcast gear will also be high on the shopping lists of many TV station groups.

That’s particularly the case for groups such as Sinclair and Nexstar, which are digesting some major acquisitions. But it can also be found at groups such as NBC Owned Television Stations that are building new facilities. Meanwhile, a number of other station groups are still in the midst of significant HD upgrades.

Here’s a breakdown of how top engineers at eight station groups size up their plans for a busy week.

CBS: Keep on Truckin’

“Acquisition will be the preeminent focus at NAB,” says Jeff Birch, VP of engineering at CBS Television Stations.

For Birch, that focus zeroes in on ENG trucks. Ford is stopping production on E-Series vans that have long been used as the chassis for ENG trucks, and Birch will be looking at what manufacturers can offer as a replacement.

CBS has widely deployed backpack technologies, and Birch calls them “a great tool, but not the only tool. I still believe there is a need for ENG trucks for major news stories.”

During NAB, he will also be looking at smaller, lighter cameras that have IP connectivity to send back video directly to the station. “Why spend $30,000 or $40,000 on a camera when you can buy one for less than $10,000 with great picture quality and buy a lot of equipment to complement it?” Birch asks.

Beyond acquisition tools, Birch and his engineers will explore the latest developments in weather systems, robots for archives and antenna and transmission technologies. “With spectrum repacking coming up, I want to see what is available in more efficient transmitters and antenna,” he says.

NBC: Thinking Beyond What’s Possible

In the run-up to NAB, station engineers at NBC Owned Television Stations meet with general managers, news directors and sales executives to discuss where they are headed now, along with their plans for the future, explains Jeff Morris, VP of technology and operations at the group.

“We encourage them to think beyond what’s possible, and what they would like to see that would enable new tools or workflows,” Morris says. “It might not be even something that exists today. But it gives us a chance to talk to vendors about [issues] at NAB that might influence what they create.”

In addition, Morris and his engineers always arrive in Las Vegas with some major technological areas they want to explore. This year, those involve newsgathering, archives, digital media integration, production-related tools and traditional broadcast equipment, Morris says.

One traditional broadcast technology he is particularly interested in is monitoring. “Our TV stations have become incredibly complex, and we really need monitoring tools that can create greater visibility into our operations,” Morris says.

In addition to building major new facilities in Dallas and Los Angeles, the NBC group also is looking for tools to streamline multiplatform distribution and to better integrate that into their broadcast workflows. “We want to make sure our people have the best tools possible for all the platforms they are publishing to,” Morris notes.

Sinclair: Cost-Effective HD Upgrades

With Sinclair Broadcasting on the acquisition trail, equipment for upgrades to the news operations and HD infrastructures at the groups ever-growing portfolio will be a major focus, says Harvey Arnold, corporate director of engineering for Sinclair Broadcast Group.

“In the past year, we have more than doubled the news stations we have with all these purchases,” Arnold notes.

Because many of these upgrades are occurring in smaller markets, Sinclair will be particularly interested in technologies that can help the group and its stations “do more with less,” he says.

“You can’t spend millions of dollars on these smalland medium-size market stations,” Arnold says. “You have to think out of the box for smaller markets for ways to do things that give them more bang for the buck and allow them to be more efficient.”

As part of that effort, Sinclair is looking at alternative editing systems, a wide variety of equipment for HD upgrades, less expensive HD cameras and new ways to bring content back from the field.

Hearst: Getting a Better Grip On Compression

With six hi-def upgrades left to do at its stations and two scheduled to occur this year, Hearst will be looking at equipment for HD conversions as well as technologies for better compression, live news trucks and IP technologies, says Marty Faubell, VP, engineering for Hearst Television.

For stations that have already launched HD newscasts, Hearst is now looking to upgrade their trucks to HD. But the group wants to get a better grasp on developments in compression, including the emerging high efficiency video encoding (HEVC) technologies, before spending any money.

“I’m a little hesitant knowing that we are entering another round of new compression,” Faubell says. “We have been doing some tests and will be doing a lot of due diligence around compression.”

With Hearst stations now streaming a tremendous amount of content to the Web and mobile devices, the group will continue to look at new IP technologies. “It is interesting to see how traditional broadcast vendors have struggled to move beyond broadcast and expand into the Web,” Faubell says. “Now we are seeing players from Web video moving back into TV technologies. So there is a little bit of a tussle in developing a tool set that does it all—TV, Web, and mobile.”

Nexstar: HD, New Builds and Upgrades, And Building Better Weather

Live trucks, new weather systems, equipment for HD upgrades and tools for better sharing of content are among items on the NAB shopping list for the Nexstar Broadcasting Group, reports senior VP of station operations Blake Russell.

Nexstar has acquired a number of stations over the last year and is currently involved in several major projects that will require new equipment. “We have several new builds or market consolidation projects that are going on now or will be starting in the future,” Russell says.

In addition, seven HD upgrades are planned for Nexstar stations this year. “We continue to talk to vendors to find unique ways to get the most out of the dollar for those projects,” he says.

Much of the company’s focus is on strengthening local news operations with unique content.

As part of that effort, Russell and his team will be exploring new weather systems that can stand out from their competition. “I don’t want to just adapt a package of weather graphics into a weather system,” he says. “I want to take it to another level and present the best possible weather in the market.”

They will also be eyeing new cameras like JVC’s new 130 GY-HM650 ProHD mobile news cameras “that have built-in connectivity, so you can send video straight from the cameras to the newsroom,” he says.

As part of the push to strengthen local content, the group wants to continue to expand its ability to share content. “We’re interested in any technology that will allow us to share content better, move it faster from the field,” Russell says.

Gray Television: Steps Toward Virtual Newsrooms

After spending the last few years creating a new approach for news production inside its station, Gray Television will concentrate much of its energies at NAB on new technologies to change the way it acquires and distributes news from the field, reports Jim Ocon, VP of technology for the station group.

“As the saying goes, news does not happen in the newsroom,” says Ocon. “I want to virtualize our newsroom and provide our folks with all the tools they need to send back content without necessarily having to come back to the newsroom.”

To accomplish that, at NAB he will be looking at new acquisition technologies to “eliminate live vans”; smaller, less expensive cameras; cloud production tools; and technologies for backpack journalism. “We want to move electronic newsgathering straight into the cloud,” he says.

Inside the stations, Ocon is also looking for ways to better utilize social media, technologies for app development and processes that can streamline multiplatform distribution. “And I want open video standards, open codecs,” he adds. “I think I’m done with proprietary codecs.”

Media General: Transcoding, Workflows and Archives

Media General will be looking at a variety of products at NAB, says Mark Turner, VP of broadcast technology. These include transcoding tools that could improve company workflows for processing commercials; affordable virtual sets; archive systems that can better handle HD content; Wi-Fi enabled cameras; graphic systems; loudness monitoring products; and mobile DTV.

As more Media General stations adopt HD from the field, Turner notes it is “creating some complexities for our archives. So we’ll be looking at archives.”

For newsgathering, Turner says they are interested in some of the newer cameras from both Panasonic and JVC that have built-in Wi-Fi, particularly the JVC GYHM650 ProHD mobile news camera. They are also looking to streamline work-flows with some new tools to transcode and handle spot ads and are interested in ways to improve their multiplatform delivery.

While the Media General stations have been upgraded to comply with the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, Turner is eyeing technologies for better addressing the issue. “We would much prefer that the correction for loudness be as far upstream as possible, so we don’t have unintended quality problems when the compressor kicks in,” he says.

Fisher: Mobile DTV and Weather Are Tops on a Full Plate

During NAB, engineers at Fisher Communications will be taking a close look at virtual sets for smaller-market stations, weather systems, cloud technologies, news trucks and tools for better content sharing and multiplatform delivery, notes VP of technology, Brian McHale.

“We usually spend some time looking at next-generation weather systems,” he notes. “Weather is a big driver for our Portland, Ore. and Seattle stations.”

For smaller Fisher markets, channel-in-a-box technologies and virtual sets are on the shopping list. “As the costs continue to come down, we will be looking at virtual sets for some of the stations in 100-plus markets,” McHale says.

Fisher has been standardizing on TVU backpacks. They deployed four in Portland and Seattle and are now thinking of adding some to the smaller markets and expanding their use for live feeds. “We will be meeting with TVU about the potential of taking a story from Portland and using them to go live to air in other markets,” McHale says.

While Fisher has been extremely happy with these cellular bonding technologies, McHale will also be talking to vendors about a new ENG truck.

And mobile DTV will be a hot topic for Fisher and other stations during a meeting of the Mobile 500 consortium at NAB. The Mobile 500’s mobile DTV product has been soft launched by Fisher in Seattle and Hubbard Broadcasting in Minneapolis, and Fisher will be sharing some of the results with other members.

“We have been very happy with what we’ve seen,” McHale says, adding that 61% of users are watching one to five hours of mobile broadcasts each week.

E-mail comments to gpwin@oregoncoast.com and follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow

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